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    Letters to the Editors

    Senate needs to face up to malpractice crisis


    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 26, 2003

    It is with deep concern that we express our disappointment with the series of votes that occurred on March 20 in the Senate Health, Aging and Long-Term Care Committee that defeated a number of the recommendations of the Governor's Task Force for Medical Liability Reform.

    The Task Force has concluded, "Although all of the recommendations contained in the final report of the Task Force are important, the most important one is a cap on noneconomic damages in the amount of $250,000."

    In voting against this critical measure, the committee has rejected the conclusions of numerous governmental agencies including the General Accounting Office, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Congressional Budget Office and the American Academy of Actuaries.

    The senators rejected the conclusions of numerous other state legislative bodies across this nation that are enacting responsible reforms. They rejected the conclusions of our president, our governor and the physician and business communities in our state.

    They dismissed the historical evidence of 28 years of stability and patient protection that has been delivered by California's MICRA regulations.

    The most troubling part of their actions though, is that according to a public opinion poll conducted by the Tarrance Group, they disregarded the opinion of 86 percent of the residents of our state who support meaningful tort reform including a $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages in medical liability cases.

    We applaud the courage of the Florida House of Representatives for passing a responsible tort reform package and acting to preserve the ability of 16-million Floridians to access medical care. We also sincerely thank Sen. Burt Saunders of Naples and Sen. Anna Cowin of Leesburg for sponsoring the legislation.

    We anxiously wait for the Senate to grasp the severity of this crisis.
    Abbott Kagan, II, M.D., president, Fraser Cobbe,
    executive director, Florida Orthopaedic Society, Tampa

    Medical frustration will only grow

    Re: Bill capping malpractice awards defeated, March 21.

    I am appalled that the caps on malpractice awards were defeated by a Senate panel last week. As a nurse and the wife of a "rich doctor," I am seeing firsthand the loss of fine doctors and surgeons due to bogus malpractice suits that are settled out of court and within our court system.

    I am watching the loss of physician malpractice insurance companies in Florida due to this and the ridiculous amount of claims with no caps. Soon we will not have any malpractice insurers in Florida.

    I certainly hope the trial attorneys who supported this and the senators who voted against this cap will be able to take care of the sick patients in Florida when we no longer have experienced doctors to do so. Doctors are frustrated, and patients will be even more so when they can't find a doctor to treat them.
    -- Patricia Rummel Springstead, R.N., Brooksville

    A growing crisis

    During this time of conflict and crisis in the world, there is another predicament occurring in America that few Americans are aware of that will eventually effect every citizen. The crisis is medical malpractice. And I have an insight into this because my father is a neurosurgeon whose field in medicine has to pay one of the highest amounts for protection.

    Over the past years the rates for malpractice have gone through the roof. This is unacceptable and because of this, many of America's best surgeons are being forced into early retirement or being forced to move out of Florida.

    A person might think that since doctors make a large amount of money they can handle the insurance premiums, which in Florida are between $15,460 and $210,576, with neurosurgeons at the high end of the scale. In truth, the amount that the HMOs and Medicare pay to the doctors for the surgeries they perform are steadily declining. In the New York Times, Dr. Howard J. Winter considers the amount a doctor makes and the amount he pays for insurance and said it would be like a working-class man making $50,000 a year having to pay $20,000 for auto insurance.

    Most people might not feel the effect of this now, but if the system goes on as it is they soon will. Because there are so many medical malpractice suits in Florida, many doctors are afraid of doing surgery that is risky or has a good chance of a negative outcome because they will get sued if something goes wrong. This means that eventually patients will have to travel to universities where the doctors are exempt from suits just for routine surgeries.

    Most doctors feel that it is fair if they are sued for a true mistake, such as operating on the wrong side of the spine, or removing the wrong leg, but when the suit involves "emotional damages" and such, the settlements often are in the millions of dollars.

    The trial lawyers are trying to make the public feel that a a cap on suits is going to hurt everyone. It will not. The $250,000 cap is only for the emotional damages, not the actual damages such as lost work time and the inability to work. This means that patients can still sue a doctor but they will only be able to get what they have truly lost plus a maximum of $250,000 for noneconomic damages.

    A cap on noneconomic damages would benefit everyone because the doctors would not be afraid to do what they do best, and it would allow for better care of all of their patients.
    -- Andrew Cutler, Lutz

    Undercutting public education

    Once again Republicans demonstrate the poisonous hypocrisy that has not only destroyed all credibility in the White House but also the state house in Tallahassee. While making public declarations about education and "leave no child behind," both in Washington and the state Capitol, Republicans pursue a policy of devastation for public education.

    The GOP in Florida, as the Times noted in its editorial (Patriotic disguise, March 25) about the tax-break, school-voucher plan for military personnel as well as reservists and National Guard personnel (CS for HB 805), claims "patriotism" in a program that is patently aimed at further bleeding public support for public education.

    Gov. Jeb Bush and his Republican henchmen in the state Legislature have steadily pursued a program of strangling public schools financially and through policy programs. At the same time, the GOP has steadily put a smiling mask on their program and claimed it does the school system "good."

    The president's national education "reforms" have done nothing but cost money, cause trouble and displace students across the nation. When pressed to finance the federal obligations, President Bush turned his back. Apparently Florida's experience in killing public schools with smiles and lies has taught a lesson to Washington.
    -- J. Lange Winckler, Tampa

    Give that money to public schools

    The schools of Florida are suffering from a lack of funding. The state House is considering a bill that would give vouchers to the children of all service people past and present, National Guardsmen and reservists. I am not against honoring the people who have served our country in the past and are doing so now. When they serve our country, they are sacrificing a great deal.

    They can be honored in many other ways. All of the children of Florida deserve a good education. If the House lawmakers feel that they could add $10-million to the voucher program, why not use that money for more teachers, fixing up needy schools, after-school programs or anything that would enhance our educational system? I am certain that every person in military services would like to know that the education their child gets in Florida is one of quality.
    -- Audrey Kopelman, St. Pete Beach

    Academy abuse is slow to change

    Re: Military dishonor, March 22.

    Thank you for your strongly worded and well-thought-out editorial on the rape scandal at the Air Force Academy. My daughter was one of the first women cadets, graduating in the class of 1981. At the time there was still a horror in many military circles of women joining the elite group at the academy. This pervasive attitude was shared, amplified and acted out by the individual male cadets. They did everything possible to show contempt and hatred for the girls in their midst -- most only 17 or 18, and in the most difficult circumstances of their lives, just to meet the military, fitness and academic daily requirements.

    Reporting an incident was known to increase the abuse, since academy management refused to chastise the transgressor. Largely because of the abusive and demeaning climate, fully 66 percent of women in our daughter's class dropped out before graduation.

    While our daughter was not raped, she reported to us many instances of abuse, including being required to report to an upperclassman's room and observe while he masturbated. Although my daughter has gone on to a career as a commercial pilot, this kind of abasement of women, tolerated and accepted by the entire cadet corps as well as supervisors, can take a lasting emotional toll on the victim. Granted, all big organizations change slowly, but how could it take 20 years for the academy to come to grips with such a serious problem?
    -- Patricia Busbice, Wesley Chapel

    Working against corporate corruption

    Re: Levitt's message to CFOs: do the right thing, by Robert Trigaux, March 19.

    Bless Arthur Levitt for attempting personally to do that which should routinely be done in every college and university that confers degrees in business administration: teach required courses in business ethics and morality.

    But eliminating the current climate of corporate corruption requires reforms far beyond greed-obsessed CFOs and accountants. The Trigaux article points to one: the corrupting influence of corporate lobbyists' huge political campaign contributions which produced, for example, the appointment of former SEC chairman Harvey Pitt, who "turned the agency into the laughingstock of securities regulation." We can only hope that the new campaign finance reform law will reduce the "overwhelming" influence of big money in government business regulation.

    I believe the effort to preserve and protect the good reputation of a publicly owned corporation is a shared management responsibility. Every manager -- and this most certainly includes a company's general counsel -- should see as his/her responsibility CEO notification of any business proposal perceived to be illegal. It should never become the responsibility of a whistle-blower unless, as happened at Enron, senior management corruption is so pervasive as to silence warnings that arise through the chain of corporate authority.
    -- Joseph H. Francis, St. Petersburg

    Good water news

    Amid all the negative news of late it was extremely comforting to read about the new desalination plant in Tampa Bay with its daily output of 25-million gallons of water now in operation.

    Kudos to those who finally brought this reality to fruition through all the problems and perplexities involved.

    Any further expansion in the future will be most advantageous and welcome to say the least.
    -- Bill Dunihue, St. Petersburg

    Share your opinions

    We invite readers to write to us. Letters for publication should be addressed to Letters to the Editor, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

    They can be sent by fax to (727) 893-8675 or by e-mail to letters@sptimes.com (no attachments, please).

    They should be brief and must include the writer's name, address and phone number. Please include a handwritten signature when possible.

    Letters may be edited for clarity, taste and length. We regret that not all letters can be published.

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